>ask Galatea about life
“What do you know about life?” you ask her. (General questions: you can almost always find ones that haven’t been anticipated.)
“Nothing,” she says, “except what I saw of his; and that seldom made any sense to me. He told me that people are born, and that they die, and that there are stages in between– childhood, adolescence… I asked him why he didn’t carve me as a child so that I could grow up.” There’s a pregnant pause. “I never heard him laugh so hard as when I asked him that. And he said that I certainly had the brain of a child.”
The air conditioning hums, sending a ripple through the velvet curtain.
Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction piece Galatea is rich with detail from the start. Her witty, sarcastic, and fluid narration barely hints at a direction, providing the interactor/player/reader with maximum freedom to explore. This is different than perhaps a lot of IF work because movement is static but the emotional-centric responses are seemingly endless. So what does this mean for you?
Initially, I found it difficult merely because of the lack of direction. There weren’t things to examine, or places to go. This is a static game in terms of movement from place to place. It is conversation–about conversation. About the manipulable nature of language and how each phrase, each turn, each examination elicits an emotional response which clearly affects both the player and the character you are interacting with. I had a Tamagotchi when I was younger, and I remember if I didn’t feed it, it died. If I didn’t walk it, it died. If I forgot to clean up after it–the Tamagotchi was just pissed at me and playing was impossible.
While Galatea was never pissed, or “dead” I could see her reacting in ways that “animates” shouldn’t–or wouldn’t.
You run a finger along her spine, from the nape of her neck to the place where her dress begins, noting with approval the distinct vertebrae under the skin. But when you draw your hand away she shivers. All you can think is: animates don’t do that. There’s a conventional limit to their interactivity. They’re meant to be touched — but not to react–
Short’s language was enticing in terms of both the language, and keen ear for dialogue. When inserting a prompt, I didn’t just “touch spine” but rather I “ran a finger along her spine.” My action or thought to act became very sensual and personal. You actually begin to feel you are part of the tale as well as the creation.
I’m really interested in discussing what is IF? I feel the reader has some sort of agency as well as flexibility. Short has keen insight into what language can and can not do. She also is aware of the limitations and advantages this input-output platform has. I’ll admit my first taste of parser-based IF was a bit jarring and I didn’t enjoy it. This was a different experience because of the language and depth of the conversation you are able to have. It felt real…